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by Bamber Gascoigne

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Brett Halliday (1904-1977) - Preudonym for Davis Dresser, also wrote as Asa Baker, Mathew Blood, Kathryn Culver, Don Davis, Hal Debrett, Elliot Storm, Anthony Scott, Anderson Wayne - Brett Halliday is also a pseudonym of Bill Pronzini, who writes as Robert Hart Davis, Jack Foxx, William Jeffrey, Alex Saxon, John Barry Williams.


Prolific American writer, who published from 1939 to 1976 more than 60 mystery novels that featured the Miami-based private detective Michael Shayne and his beautiful secretary and girlfriend Lucy Hamilton. Dresser wrote under several pseudonyms, but his fame rests on these books, written under the name Brett Halliday. His protagonist is a red-headed, wisecracking pulp hero, who follows his own code of right and wrong. The novels have been translated into several languages (among others into Finnish), made into motion pictures, television series, and radio plays.

Lucy was slim and straight and supple. She had clear brown eyes and a sweetly rounded face with a firm chin. She said, "No wonder you don't get ahead in this competitive world. There's a client outside. (in Murder Is My Business, 1945)

Brett Halliday was born Davis Dresser in Chicago, Illinois, but he grew up in West Texas. As a boy, Dresser lost an eye to barbed wire, and for the rest of his life, he wore an eyepatch. Before becoming a writer, Dresser lived an action packed life – if the stories are to believed. According to some biographical sources, he joined the United States Army Cavalry at the age of 14 and rode with Pershing chasing Pancho Villa, before the army discovered his age and discharged him. (Note: About at the same time, during the Russian Civil War, the writer Isaak Babel joined Semyon Budenny's cavalry.) After these experiences, Dresser returned to Texas to finish the high school. In his quest for adveture, he then worked as a worked as a roughneck in oil fields, from Texas to California. For a period, he was a deckhand on an oil tanker. On resuming his studies, he entered Tri-State College in Indiana, graduating in Civil Engineering, and earned his living as a badly paid engineer and a surveyor. In 1927, two years before the Great Depression, he tried his hand at creative writing, and kept on trying over a decade without much success.

Dresser contributed first to pulp magazines and produced some love stories. As 'Anthony Scott' he published in 1934 Mardi Grass Madness and Test of Virtue, and under the pseudonym 'Elliot Storm', he wrote Two Femmes in Fairyland (1935), Hot Date (Shame Girl), Two Tickets West and Strange Bedmates. Dresser's first novel was Mums The Word For Murder (1938), narrated by Asa Baker and featuring a former cowboy, Jerry Burke, who is appointed "co-ordinator of all the law enforecement agencies in El Paso".

After twenty-two rejections and four years, Dresser found a publisher – Henry Holt & Co.– for Dividend on Death (1939), the first Michael Shayne novel. In the story Halliday himself becomes the chief suspect in the murder of a young woman. He summons his friend Mike Shayne to New York. Shayne finds the real killer, and repays his debt to his chronicler. From this book on, Dresser's stories began to gain fame. The next book, The Private Practice of Michael Shayne (1940), was a commercial success.

Michael Shayne is a tall Irishman. His background is vague, but before starting his own business he was an employee of a large detective agency in New York. "It is my impression that he is not a college man, although he is well educated, has a good vocabulary and is articulate on variety on subjects," said Dresser once. Since moving to Miami, Shayne established a reputation as the city's ace PI. Dresser himself did not live in Florida, but in California, and the local color was not so vivid. Shayne drinks Martell, which is quality cognac, with a glass of cold water, but he is far from such heavy-drinkers as William Crane, or Dashiell Hammett's Nick Charles. And he seldom uses his gun, a .38 revolver.

Call for Michael Shayne (1949) begins with a long description of a headache and nausea  – the longest in the series. An insurance executive named Arthur Devlin wakes up in a hotel room. Devlin doesn't remember anything from the past two weeks. And there is a dead man under the bed. Shayne solves the mystery in less than twenty-four hours. During the course of his investigation, Shayne is knocked unconscious, he visits two bars, drinks cognac, a coctail, a drink from his liquor cabinet, and whisky, and travels from Miami to Key West and back, and then to Marlin Key. In The Blonde Cried Murder (1956) the action takes place between 21.32 o'clock and midnight. Shayne gets his glass of Martell cognag after 23.43 o'clock at the Silver Glade. 

In The Uncomplaining Corpse (1940) Shayne marries a young woman named Phyllis Brighton, whom he had helped in Divided On Death and engaged in The Private Practice of Michael Shayne. Phyllis thinks that she has "an Electra complex" – she is a lesbian. She dies in childbirth in On the Black Market (1943). A new woman, Lucille Hamilton, takes her place in Shayne's life and office in Michael Shayne's Long Change (1944). However, Shayne do not marry her. Other characters are the crime reporter and Shayne's drinking buddyTimothy Rourke, and Will Gentry, chief of police of Miami. Shayne's adversary is Peter Painter, chief of detectives across the bay in Miami Beach.

According to the author himself, Shayne's model was a real-life character, whom he met in his youth at a bar in Tampico, Mexico. When a fight broke out with local Mexicans and American sailors, Dresser was knocked on the floor, and a six-foot, one inch tall redhead dragged him away from the fray. Years later Dresser bumped into the same man in New Orleans' French Quarter, in a Rampart Street bar, learning that he was a private detective on a case, but just at the moment sitting with a bottle of cognac in front of him. "He had a tall angular body that concealed a lot of solid weight, and his freckled cheeks were thin to gauntness. His rumpled hair was violent red, giving him a little-boy look curiously in contrast with the harshness of his features. When he smiled, the harshness went out his face and he didn't look at all a hard-boiled private detective who had come on the top the tough way." (from Dividend on Death)

In the timeless world of Michael Shayne, the character survived well into the 1980s. Because the basic formula employed in 1939 remained intact, it was not difficult for other writers to continue the adventures. Sometimes Shayne solved classical " locked room" mysteries, as in This Is It, Michael Shayne (1950), where a scandal reporter is found dead in her office. In Murder and the Married Virgin (1944) a Katrin Moe, a Norwegian woman dies of gas in her room. She has worked as a housemaid for the rich Lomax family, but his fiancé doesn't believe that she committed suicide. Also a precious necklace has disappeared. The story is set in New Orleans, where Shayne had moved his office after the death of Phyllis.

Killers from the Keys (1961), ghost-written by Wallace Ryerson Johnson, follow Halliday's typical story lines, in which beautiful women are often treacherous, even when they ask Shayne's help. Only his secretary, Lucy Hamilton, is faithful to him. During his investigations, Shayne also starts to suspect that he has become too soft in the tropical Miami. However, he doesn't give up his principles - he trusts in his two fists and doesn't carry a gun.

The Shayne series eventually numbered some seventy volumes, and the hero was seen between 1940 and 1947 in twelve films. In Time to Kill, based on Raymond Chandler's novel The High Window, the crime solver was not Philip Marlowe but detective Mike Shayne. Fox paid Chandler $3,500 for screen rights, adapting it for Lloyd Nolan as Shayne. In the story Shayne's services were needed in a case that involved counterfeiters of rare coins. On radio, Michael Shayne, Private Detective, was aired from 1944 to 1947; the lead was plated by Wally Maher. Shayne appeared again in a CBS series The New Adventures of Michael Shayne, from 1948 to 1950, with Jeff Chandler as the private eye, and then in ABC broadcast Michael Shayne, Private Detective, with Donald Curtis from 1952 to 1953.

Lloyd Nolan was one the most versatile actors in Hollywood, and his first Shayne film in 1940, actually based on The Private Practice of Michael Shayne, not on Dividend on Death, had a more elaborate loking production than many B films. The script was written by Stanley Rauhn and Nabbing O'Connor. Nolan, who had often played a gangster or a policeman, starred in seven films in 1941-42. Shayne' secretary Lucy Haminton was renamed Phyllis Hamilton. Except this first, Michael Shayne, Private Detective, 20th-Fox did not use no further Halliday novels as sources for films. Several of the movies were adapted from novels by other authors about other detectives. Sleepers West (1941), remade of Sleepers East (1934), was taken from a Frederick Nebel novel. Blue, White and Perfect (1941), about diamond smuggling, was developed from a story by Borden Chase, serialized in Argosy Magazine in 1937. Later it appeared as a short novel, entitled Diamonds of Death. The screenplay was written by Samuel G. Engel.

Clayton Rawson's novel about his hero, the Great Merlini, gave the plot to The Man Who Wouldn't Die (1942); Rawson himself had been a famous magician before he turned to writing. In Time to Kill (1942), directed by Herbert I. Leeds, Shayne met counterfeiters of rare coins. This was one of the best of the Michael Shayne movies. It was remade as The Brasher Doubloon (1947), starring George Montgomery. Producers Releasing Corporation ("PCR") made five features, starring Hugh Beaumont, a Hollywood character actor, who gained fame in the Leave It to Beaver television series. Four of the films were directed by Samuel Newfeld; William Beaudine directed one. A TV series was made in 1960, starring Richard Denning. Arnaud d’Usseau, who was placed on the blacklist in the 1950s, wrote the screenplay for Just Off Broadway (1942).

From 1946 to 1961, Dresser was married to the mystery writer Helen McCloy. They were also partners in a literary agency that bore their names, as well as in Toquil Publishing Company, which from 1953 to 1964 published the adventures of Michael Shayne. With Bill S. Ballinger, he scripted two episodes of the TV series Ironside, entitled The Macabre Mr. Micawber (1968) and Officer Bobby (1968). Dresser retired virtually from writing in the late 1950s, and used ghostwriters, among others Robert Terrall, Wallace Ryerson Johnson, Dennis Lynds. James Reasoner continued the work after Dresser's death. Bill Pronzini ghost-wrote some stories about Mike Shayne. Dresser's collaboration with Kathleen Rollins in Before I Wake (1949) and A Lonely Way to Die (1950) led eventually to their marriage; she was his second wife. The books were published under the pseudonym 'Hal Debrett'. Dresser's third wife was Mary Savage, also an accomplished writer. Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine began to appear in 1956, until its cancellation in 1990. Dresser was a founding member of the Mystery Writers of America, and in 1953 he was given an Edgar Award for his criticism. Although Shayne's adventures were mostly set in Florida, Dresser's longtime home was in Southern California. He died on February 4, 1977.

For further reading: Bodies Are Where You Find Them by Brett Halliday (1959); Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection, ed. by Otto Penzler and Chris Steinbrunner (1976); Private Eyes: One Hundred and One Knights: A Survey of American Detective Fiction, 1922-1984, by Robert B. Baker and Michael T. Nietzel (1985); Twentieth-Century Crime and Mystery Writers, ed. by John M. Reilly (1985); The American Private Eye by David Geherin (1985); Encyclopdia Mysteriosa by William L. DeAndrea (1994); Mystery Movie Series of 1940s Hollywood by Ron Backer (2010)

Selected works:

  • Mardi Grass Madness, 1934 (as Anthony Scott)
  • Test of Virtue, 1934 (as Anthony Scott)
  • Love Is a Masquerade, 1935 (as Kathryn Culver)
  • Ten Toes Up, 1935 (as Anthony Scott)
  • Virgin's Holiday, 1935 (as Anthony Scott)
  • Two Femmes in Fairyland, 1935 (as Elliot Storm)
  • Stolen Sins, 1936 (as Anthony Scott)
  • Ladies of Chance, 1936 (as Anthony Scott)
  • Let's Laugh at Love, 1937 (as Davis Dresser)
  • Too Smart for Love, 1937 (as Kathryn Culver)
  • Million Dollar Madness, 1937 (as Kathryn Culver)
  • Mum's the Word for Murder, 1938 (as Asa Baker)
  • Satan Rules the Night, 1938 (as Anthony Scott)
  • Romance for Julie, 1938 (as Davis Dresser)
  • Temptation, 1938
  • Green Path to the Moon, 1938 (as Kathryn Culver)
  • Once Every Woman, 1938 (as Kathryn Culver)
  • Girl Alone, 1939 (as Kathryn Culver)
  • The Kissed Corpse, 1939 (as Asa Baker)
  • Dividend on Death, 1939
  • Return of the Rio Kid, 1940 (as Don Davis)
  • The Uncomplaining Corpses, 1940
  • Death Rides the Pecos, 1940 (as Davis Dresser)
  • Death on Treasure Trail, 1940 (as Don Davis)
  • The Hangmen of Sleep Valley, 1940 (as Davis Dresser; UK title: The Masked Riders of Sleepy Valley, 1941)
  • The Private Practice of Michael Shayne, 1940
  • Tickets for Death, 1941
  • Rio Kid Justice, 1941 (as Don Davis)
  • Two-Gun Rio Kid, 1941 (as Don Davis)
  • Bodies Are Where You Find Them, 1941 (in Michael Shayne Investigates, 1943)
  • Michael Shayne Takes Over, 1941
  • Gunsmoke on the Mesa, 1941 (as Davis Dresser)
  • Lynch-Rope Law, 1941 (as Davis Dresser)
  • The Corpse Came Calling, 1942 (in Michael Shayne Investigates, 1943; as The Case of the Walking Corpse, 1943)
  • Murder Wears a Mummer's Mask, 1943 (in Michael Shayne Takes a Hand, 1944; as In a Deadly Vein, 1956)
  • Blood on the Black Market, 1943 (in Michael Shayne Takes a Hand, 1944; rev. ed. Heads You Loose, 1958)
  • Michael Shayne Investigates, 1943 (omnibus)
  • Michael Shayne Takes a Hand, 1944 (omnibus)
  • Michael Shayne's Long Chance, 1944
  • Murder and the Married Virgin, 1944
  • Murder is My Business, 1945
  • Marked for Murder, 1945
  • Dead Man's Diary: And Dinner at Dupre's, 1945
  • Blood on Biscayne Bay, 1946
  • Counterfeit Wife, 1947
  • Blood on the Stars, 1948 (UK title: Murder Is a Habit, 1951)
  • Michael Shayne's Triple Mystery, 1948 (Dead Man's Diary, A Taste for Cognac, Dinner at Dupre's)
  • A Taste for Violence, 1949
  • Before I Wake, 1949 (as Hal Debrett, with Kathleen Rollins)
  • Call for Michael Shayne, 1949
  • Hot Date (Shame Girl), 1949 (as Elliot Storm)
  • A Lonely Way to Die, 1950 (as Hal Debrett, with Kathleen Rollins)
  • This is It, Michael Shayne, 1950
  • Framed in Blood, 1951
  • When Dorinda Dances, 1951
  • 20 Great Tales of Murder, 1951 (editor, with Helen McCloy)
  • What Really Happened, 1952
  • The Avenger, 1952
  • Charlie Dell, 1952 (as Anderson Wayne; as A Time to Remember, 1959)
  • One Night with Nora, 1953 (UK title: The Lady Came by Night, 1954)
  • Murder on the Mesa, 1953
  • She Woke to Darkness, 1954
  • Death Is a Lovely Dame, 1954 (as Matthew Blood, with Ryerson Johnson)
  • Death Has Three Lives, 1955
  • Stranger in Town, 1955
  • Dangerous Dames, 1955 (ed.)
  • The Blonde Cried Murder, 1956
  • Weep for a Blonde, 1957
  • Shoot the Works, 1957
  • Big Time Mysteries, 1958 (ed.)
  • Murder in Miami, 1959 (ed.)
  • Murder and the Wanton Bride, 1959 (Halliday's last own novel)
  • Murder in Haste, 1961
  • Killers from the Keys, 1961
  • Best Detective Stories of the Year, 1961-62 (ed.)
  • Murder in Miami, 1970 (short story, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine)

Suomennettuja Mike Shayne -pokkareita:

  • Mum's the Word for Murder, 1938
    - Murhaajan aikataulu (suom. 1959)
  • The Uncomplaining Corpses, 1940
    - Kuollut ei puhu (suom. 1960)
  • Bodies are Where You Find Them, 1941
    - Ruumiit ovat siellä missä ne ovat (suom. 1956)
  • Murder Wears a Mummer's Mask, 1943
    - Murhaajan naamio (suom. 1957)
  • Murder and the Married Virgin, 1944
    - Kuolleen neitsyen arvoitus (suom. P. Haukinen, 1964)
  • Marked for Murder, 1945
    - Murhanhimoinen vaaleaverikkö (suom. P. Suoste, 1964)
  • Blood on the Stars, 1948
    - Veriset tähtirubiinit (suom. 1959)
  • Call for Michael Shayne, 1949
    - Vainaja vaihtaa nimeä (suom. Olavi Tuomola, 1965)
  • This is It, Michael Shayne, 1950
    - Kuolema karhuaa saatavansa (suom. Mario Talaskivi, 1960)
  • Framed in Blood, 1951
    - Reikä ruumiin taskussa (suom. 1958) / Kiristys on vaarallista (suom. P. Haukinen, 1964) )
  • When Dorinda Dances, 1951
    - Dorinda tanssii (suom. 1956)
  • What Really Happened, 1952
    - Kuoleman ruletti (suom. Päivi Haukinen, 1965)
  • One Night with Nora, 1953
    - Yö Noran kanssa (suom. 1958)
  • The Blonde Cried Murder, 1956
    - Kadonnut ruumis (suom. Päivi Haukinen, 1964)
  • Weep for a Blonde, 1957
    - Kuoleman alkusoitto (suom. Päivi Haukinen)
  • The Careless Corpse, 1961
    - Huoleton vainaja (suom. P. Haukinen, 1965)
  • Murder in Haste, 1961
    - Hätiköity murha (suom. 1973)
  • Killers from the Keys, 1961 (Wallace Ryerson Johnson, under the pseudonym Matthew Blood)
    - Punapukuinen kuolema (suom. P. Haukinen, 1964)
  • Pay-Off in Blood, 1962
    - Lopputili elämästä (suom. Pekka Haukinen, 1964)
  • Too Friendly, Too Dead, 1962
    - Niin ystävällinen, niin kuollut (suom. P. Haukinen, 1964)
  • The Corpse that Never Was, 1963
    - Ruumis, jota ei ollutkaan (suom. P. Haukinen, 1965)

Michael Shayne films:

  • Michael Shayne, Private Detective (1949), based on The Private Practice of Michael Shayne, prod. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, dir. by Eugene Forde, screenplay Stanley Rauh and Manning O'Connor, starring Lloyd Nolan (as Michael Shayne), Marjorie Weaver, Joan Valerie
  • Sleepers West (1941), dir. Eugene Forde, story by Lou Breslow, Frederick Nebel, starring Lloyd Nolan, Lynn Bari and Mary Beth Hughes
  • Dressed to Kill (1941), based on Richard Burke's novel The Dead Take No Bows, dir. Eugene Forde, starring Lloyd Nolan, Mary Beth Hughes and Sheila Ryan
  • Blue, White and Perfect (1941), based on story of the same name by Borden Chase, dir. Herbert I. Leeds, starring Lloyd Nolan, Mary Beth Hughes and Helene Reynolds
  • The Man Who Wouldn't Die (1942), based on Clayton Rawson's novel No Coffin For The Corpse, dir. Herbert I. Leeds, starring Lloyd Nolan, Marjorie Weaver and Helene Reynolds
  • Just Off Broadway (1942), dir. Herbert I. Leeds, screenplay Arnaud d'Usseau, starring Lloyd Nolan, Marjorie Weaver and Phil Silvers
  • Time To Kill (1942), based on Raymond Chandler's novel The High Window, dir. by Herbert I. Leeds, starring Lloyd Nolan, Heather Angel and Doris Merrick
  • Murder is My Business (1946), based on the novel The Uncomplaining Corpse, dir. by Sam Newfield, screenplay Fred Myton, starring Hugh Beaumont (as Michael Shayne), Cheryl Walker and Lyle Talbot
  • Larceny in Her Heart (1946), dir. Sam Newfield, screenplay Raymond L. Schrock, starring Hugh Beaumont, Cheryl Walker and Ralph Dunn
  • Blonde for a Day (1946), dir. Sam Newfield, Hugh Beaumont, Kathryn Adams and Cy Kendall
  • Three on a Ticket (1947), based on the Shayne novel The Corpse Game Calling, dir. Sam Newfield, starring Hugh Beaumont, Cheryl Walker and Paul Bryar
  • Too Many Winners (1947), dir. William Beaudine, starring Hugh Beaumont, Trudy Marshall and Ralph Dunn
  • Man on Raft, TV film 1958, dir. Mark Stevens
  • , teleplay Steve Fisher, starring Mark Stevens as Michael Shayne
  • Michael Shayne TV series 1960-1961, prod. Four Star Productions, starring Richard Denning (as Michael Shayne) Herbert Rudley, Jerry Paris

Other films:

  • Three Cases of Murder (1955), dir. by David Eady, George More O'Ferrall, Wendy Toye, story 'You Killed Elizabeth', screenplay Sidney Carroll, starring John Gregson, Elizabeth Sellars, Emrys Jones
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), dir. by Shane Black, starring Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan, partly based on Bodies Are Where You Find Them (1941)

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